V&T commission takes first step toward getting counties to help pay

The five counties that make up the V&T Railway Commission will soon get letters advising them they will eventually have to start helping with operating costs for the historic railroad.

The V&T Railway Commission Monday voted to draft what commissioner Bill Sjovangen of Storey County described as "a soft letter," explaining the statute that requires they participate in the operation and asking their input on how the minimum $250,000 a year operating costs should be split.

Chairman Dwight Millard told the other members that, without some support from the counties, the commission will run out of money.

The projected ending balance this fiscal year will be just $186,000.

"That will enable us to run for one more year at the very best," he said. "Everybody can kind of see we're coming to the end of the track."

Commission legal counsel Michael Rowe told members language in the statute creating the commission says operating costs should be split according to the net benefit the counties receive from the railroad. Asked why that hasn't been done in the near 20-year history of the commission, he and Millard said until last year when the railroad started carrying passengers, the costs were primarily construction - not operation.

Millard suggested what he believes is a fair apportionment based on the benefits each county receives from the train. Under that plan, Carson City and Storey County would pay $55,000 a year, Douglas $45,000, Lyon $25,000 and Washoe $70,000.

Millard said the commission should send "a potential invoice" to the county managers and commissioners in Carson City, Storey, Lyon, Douglas and Washoe counties asking for their input on how to handle the costs.

Bonnie Weber of Washoe County urged them to take it softly because, "these counties are hurting."

Commission Chuck Roberts of Lyon County said even though Millard's suggested they be assessed just $25,000, it would still get a negative reaction coming out of the blue.

"The general consensus is there is no benefit to Lyon County," he said. "We're dropping funding of $2,500 to the classroom on wheels because we don't have the money."

Weber said she believes the train "absolutely benefits Washoe County." But she said with Washoe's budget crisis, it still would be a difficult sell.

Commission staff member Kevin Ray pointed out that the rider surveys they've conducted show that the train definitely benefits Washoe economically.

"Washoe does get the bulk of the room nights," he said.

Weber said the commission also should look to the state for financial help.

Carson Mayor Bob Crowell and Millard both pointed out that, since all five counties must agree on the allocation of costs, the initial letter should be designed to start the conversation.

They voted to draft a letter and bring it back for a discussion at the Dec. 5 meeting before sending it out. Millard and other members will also try schedule presentations before the five county commissions involved to explain the law, the benefits of the railroad to each county and how they arrived at the amounts for each. Sjovangen, pointing to Storey County manager Pat Whitten, said Storey would contribute it's $55,000 in next year's budget.


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